The Executive Branch of the Federal Republic of Germany

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  • 0:02 German Executive Branch
  • 0:26 The President
  • 1:29 The Chancellor
  • 3:36 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

In this lesson, we explore the executive branch of the Federal Republic of Germany, a branch of government primarily dominated by two positions: the president and the chancellor.

German Executive Branch

In most organizations or groups, it's important to have a leader. Whether it's having a captain on your sports team, or a CEO in your company, it's important to have one person who is capable of setting a general direction for the entire organization or taking responsibility if something goes wrong. In a democratic government, this role is often filled by a president or prime minister, though things are a bit different in Germany.

The President

The German government has a president, but it's not an American-style president with which you or I are familiar. The president of Germany does not possess, for example, the power to veto legislation or direct foreign policy, like the U.S. President. Instead, the President of Germany serves a largely ceremonial role, including duties such as meeting other countries' heads of state and royalty and ceremonially signing acts into law, which have already been agreed to by the legislative branch and the chancellor. The president does have some important duties, like confirming all government decisions, but his/her ability to affect government policy is greatly limited. For example, when confirming government decisions, his/her only duty is to ensure each law follows basic German law.

The president is appointed to 5-year terms. He/she can only be re-elected once. He is elected by a special body, which meets every five years for the sole purpose of electing the president. The body is made up equally of members of the German legislature, the Bundestag, and members of regional governments.

The Chancellor

Whereas the president holds mostly ceremonial powers, the chancellor holds most of the true executive power in the German government. The chancellor is the de facto head of the executive branch. Not only does the chancellor appoint many of the other members of the federal government, but he/she even has the power to determine how many ministries there will be in each new government and what their duties will be.

Though the chancellor technically has this power, he doesn't, in practice, get to exercise it. This is because of how chancellors are chosen. The position of German Chancellor was modeled after the British Prime Minister, and as such, has most of the powers and characteristics of that position, including that he is elected from the legislature.

In Germany, however, no single party is allowed to have a majority in the legislature by law, and as such, the legislature requires a coalition of parties to rule. The chancellor is almost always chosen from a member of these ruling parties. Generally, the ruling parties conduct extended negotiations to divide government responsibilities and ministries amongst themselves before they decide on whom to elect as chancellor, but the chancellor is often from the party with the most seats in the legislature.

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